February 25, 2008
Candidate overview: Supreme Court primaries

Here's a pretty decent overview of the four Democratic candidates running in contested primaries for the State Supreme Court. Unlike some similar pieces we've seen this cycle, it's more issues-focused than personality-driven, which I always appreciate. It also brings to the fore a little nagging doubt that has been plaguing me for a few weeks now.

For Place 7, Dallas attorney Baltasar D. Cruz is battling Houston lawyer Sam Houston.

For Place 8, Galveston Judge Susan Criss is pitted against Linda Yanez, a justice on the state's 13th Court of Appeals, based in Corpus Christi.

All the Democratic candidates accuse the Supreme Court of suffering a variety of problems, including: a pro-business bias in its rulings, a backlog in the number of opinions it issues and ethical concerns.

While the court was seen as plaintiff friendly and left leaning in the 1980s, the Democratic candidates say it is now on the far right.

A study last year by a University of Texas law school professor found that defendants won 87 percent of injury and damage cases in the Supreme Court in 2004 and 2005.

"I'm not out to swing it for people who are not in business. I do believe in adding new blood ... and swing the pendulum back to the center," said Houston, an attorney for more than 20 years.

Cruz, his opponent and a civil lawyer for 17 years, said he wants to bring balance back to the court but is also focused on implementing a list of 26 judicial reforms, including prohibiting judges from accepting contributions from parties or attorneys with cases pending in their courts.

The "restoring balance" claim is one I have heard a lot - browse through the judicial Q&As I've done, and you'll see what I mean. In some ways, this is a very appealing argument, one that people who don't identify themselves strongly as Republicans but have generally voted that way might find persuasive. The problem as I see it is that it's a platform that necessarily has a limited shelf life, as at some point the court will be "balanced" as Democrats make the gains that seem inevitable in the near future if not this year. Indeed, if Harris County experiences a Dallas-like sweep this year, it's an argument that can then be used against the Democrats, first by Republican incumbents in 2010 hoping to hang on, and then by subsequent Republican challengers hoping to break up the Democratic hegemony. I'm not criticizing the use of this theme - it's good politics, and it's far from the only arrow these folks have in their quivers, as this article makes clear - but it's not a philosophy in and of itself. Just something to think about going forward.

By the way, did anyone besides me notice that the print edition had a Clay Robison-bylined story, which focused exclusively and in more depth on the Dem races, while chron.com had this AP wire piece that was shallower but included the GOP Court of Criminal Appeals primary? Weird.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on February 25, 2008 to Election 2008